Taste of Tohoku at A Taste of Culture


Tohoku, in northern Japan, has a rich food culture. My mother is from Yamagata and growing up I was eating many of the regional dishes like shiso maki, a nutty miso that is rolled into a fresh shiso leaf and then sauteed in sesame oil. After the triple disaster of March 11th, Elizabeth Andoh wrote Kibō, a great collection of recipes from the Tohoku region.

Today Andoh Sensei taught a class on the cuisine of Tohoku at her school, A Taste of Culture. And, as always, I walked away with new knowledge on Japanese cuisine, and inspired to push myself and study more about this Japanese food.

Elizabeth talked about the use of dried flowers and nuts and seeds in Tohoku cuisine. Today we made a dish with dried chrysanthemum petals (hoshigiku). We also used walnuts, sesame seeds, and pine nuts. Pine nuts was a big surprise, but as Elizabeth pointed out, look at all of the pine trees in Japan. The pine nuts were toasted and chopped in a food processor and then added to a tōfu dressing (shirae) that was later used as a dressing for mitsuba and loquats (biwa).


The class is part demonstration, part hands-on. Here is Elizabeth in her kitchen getting us started on making harako meshi, a rice dish made with salmon and ikura (salmon roe).

Here are the shiso maki sauteeing in some sesame oil. This is the dish I have known since I was very young. Although, I have to admit that I think my cousins in Yamagata make theirs with a bit more sugar in the nutty miso.


We were also able to try some pickles from Tohoku. One the left is a beautiful pickle, kinkon-zuké, that is made with carrots, burdock root, and cucumber rolled into kombu, that is then squeezed into a gourd and then pickled. On the right is iburigakko, a dried pickled daikon that is smoked and pickled in tamari. Both are very rich and intense in flavor.


A Taste of Tohoku

Walnut-Miso Stuffed Shiso Leaves

Dried Chrysanthemum Petals and Enoki Mushrooms in a Vinegar Dressing

Loquats and Trefoil in Pine Nut Tōfu Sauce

Kinkon-Zuké “Mosaic” Pickle and Iburikgakko Smoked Daikon Pickle

Salmon and Ikura (Parent and Child) Rice

Miso Soup with Eggplant, Wakame, and Scallions

Urakasumi Zen Junmai Ginjō

A Taste of Culture’s Website

Kibō Website

Bettako Shochu Izakaya in Ikebukuro


When going out to izakaya I always take some ヘパリーゼ Hepalize to prevent a hangover the next morning. Usually in the tablet form. But, today I forgot to bring some Hepalize pills with me from home so stopped by a convenience store and picked up this liquid form. It worked like a charm. We had lots of shōchū, but feeling great the next morning.


ポテトサラダ Potato salad is a very popular dish at izakaya. It is often made with copious amounts of mayonnaise, boiled carrots, and sliced ham. But this version was very different. I couldn’t sense any mayonnaise. Instead, it was loosened up with possibly some dash and mixed with some sautéed onions that gave it a bit of sweetness. And, there were crunchy pieces of fried onions, reminding me of the French’s fried onions found on top of the green beans and cream of mushroom dish we often see at Thanksgiving.


Bettako is an izakaya that specializes in shōchū. Shōchū is the distilled spirit, native to Japan, that is made with a variety of base ingredients. The good stuff, honkaku shōchū, is only distilled once. As a result, it maintains the aroma and flavor of the base ingredient, like sweet potatoes or barley. It is also usually only about 25 degrees in alcohol, and is often watered down, bringing it down to about 15 degrees. So, it’s similar to what you’ll find in a glass of wine. Shōchū is very food friendly, and can be served hot or cold.

Bettako is unique that most of the shōchū here is served maewariMaewari is where the shochu is watered down ahead of time, usually 24 hours or so ahead of time. It’s a great method that allows for the shōchū to mellow out and makes it much softer on the palate. I trained as a “shōchū advisor” and have studied this in class, but rarely do you come across a restaurant that actually serves it like this in Tokyo. I am sure in the Kyushu region, where shochu is the prominent drink, that it is much more available. The maewari shōchū was a revelation. Much softer and gentle on the palate. I will start doing this at home. Simply add water to the shōchū to taste, usually about 6 parts water to 4 parts shōchū, but it’s up to you. Also keep in mind if you will be serving it on the rocks as it will dilute even more.

The first shōchū of the evening is Ichiban Shizuku, a sweet potato shōchū (imo jōchūfrom Kagoshima. It is surprisingly smooth and ever so sweet from the sweet potatoes. Even those in the party who were not big shōchū drinkers found it palatable. The magic of maewari.


馬刺 Basic, horse sashimi, is a specialty of Kumamoto prefecture. Kumamoto is also famous for shōchū. The lean meat is meaty and chewy. It is served with some sliced onions and grated garlic. It’s garnished with fresh sanshō berries, which make your tongue tingle. Best of all, it is served with soy sauce from Kagoshima. The soy sauce in Kyushu is very sweet. Kyushu is where both Kumamoto and Kagoshima is.


牛タン Gyutan, beef tongue, is simply seasoned with salt and pepper and grilled. On the left side is the back part of the tongue and on the right is the front of the tongue. At Bettako it is served with some kabosu (a tart citrus) that is squeezed over the meat. The back of the tongue was softer than the meaty front part.


The second shochu was a barley (mugi jōchū) Gojinka Tenjo. It is from Oshima, a small island south of Tokyo, that is actually a part of Tokyo. Very different from the sweet potato shōchūit has tones that are similar to whisky, drier and a bit more of an attack on the palate.


The sashimi course today is hamachi yellowtail. It’s a great presentation as the chef serves both the back (far left) and the belly (far right). As can be expected, the belly is a bit more fattier and richer. The chopped hamachi in front was simply seasoned with some sesame seeds and thinly sliced Japanese leeks.


Jun Kuro (pure black) Satsuma no Kaori (aroma of sweet potatoes) shōchū was next. I really love these sweet potato shōchū. Sweet potato shōchū usually goes very well with seafood, which many izakaya dishes are made out of.


The shōchū was served in a jyōka. Is this not the greatest pot you’ve ever seen for serving? A spout on both sides. Our friend, Mizutani-san, who is a food editor and who has an amazing depth of knowledge, says that this vessel makes it easy for anyone to pour from. So, no matter which side of the table you are sitting on, you could pick up the jyōka and serve from it. You gotta love the person who thought of this design. Brilliant.


Tsubugai (whelk) is a shellfish with a rich texture. Here it is served as sashimi with some grated daikon, myōga, and green onions. One of the chefs at our table pointed this dish and said, “atarimae“. While outside of Japan, this would be a dish you may come across at a fine-dining establishment, in Japan it goest without saying, such delicious food like this would be found in an izakaya like this.


The interior of the restaurant is filled with old posters. It feels a bit like stepping back in time, except for the occasional rugby poster.Image

Interior shot. Look at how little room there is behind the counter seats to exit the restaurant. You could never get away with this in New York City.


Offal soup, a perfect way to start to wrap up the evening.

My favorite dish of the night was this pork sauteed with fresh kikuragé (wood ear) mushrooms, okahijiki – literally “hijiki of the hills” which adds a great texture, leeks, rayu chili oil and a bit of salt. Most of the time we only find dried kikuragé mushrooms in the market. The fresh kikuragé are in season at the moment. The contrast of the different textures, the bit of spiciness, and the umami from the pork brought this dish together. Image

Here is shōchū with soy milk. I’ve tried this in the past and liked it when the soy milk was paired with a sesame shōchū. Tonight it was a sweet potato shōchū.


Finally, Gyokurō, a sweet potato shōchū made with white kōji,  which makes it a light and delicate shōchū. A great shōchū to end the evening on.


Here is part of our group posing with the owner, Kanemoto-san. Kanemoto-san is famous in Tokyo for his selection of shōchū and for his great izakaya, Bettako. Kanemoto-san is also a big rugby fan which explains the rugby posters on the wall.ImageThe rest of our gang outside of Bettako. Bettako is a short walk from the station. It’s very popular so reservations are recommended.

Shōchūya BETTAKO

Toshima-ku, Higashi-Ikebukuro 1-42-17, Hasegawa Building


closed Sunday


Asahi Super Dry Extra Gold Bar – Summer Only Bar

As summer is approaching Japan’s big beer companies are shaking things up with new bars and products.

Asahi Super Dry Extra Gold Bar Shinjuku opened today and will run through September 30th. It is located just outside of Shinjuku Station’s Nishi Guchi exit at Concourse MB on the 1st floor. It’s a standing bar only. One of the specialties the bar is promoting is a beer cocktail made with lemon called Black Lemon. There is also a bar in Ginza (Ginza 2-6-4) also through September 30th.



2013 Best Shio Salt Ramen in Tokyo

Tokyo ramen restaurants are constantly being ranked. Following is a list from a recent survey of the area’s most popular shio (salt) ramen restaurants. I’ve included a link either to the restaurant’s site or to the Tabelog site so you can see photos of the ramen.

1. はじめ Hajime: Kita-ku, Jujo 2-30-9 (opened February, 2012)

2. 金時 Kintoki: Nerima-ku, Kotakecho 1-2-7 (opened March, 2012)

3. 灯花 Tōka: Shinjuku-ku, Arakicho 8 (opened June, 2012)

4. おかげさま Okagesama: Shibuya-ku, Sasazuka 1-62-8 (opened August, 2012)

5. 美志満 Mishima: Nerima-ku, Sakuradai 1-2-9 (opened May, 2012)

May Seasonal Japanese Seafood 5月旬の魚

katsuo tataki

The cold waters still bring fish rich with fat that shines in sashimi or is nice for grilling. Asari clams are great for making into a quick vongole style pasta. And perhaps my favorite this time of year is katsuo simply seared on the edges, sliced thickly, and served with some soy sauce and garlic. This time of year, the katsuo is referred to as “hatsu-gatsuo”. Katsuo actually is in season two times a year. This is the first time we see it, hence the name “first katsuo” in Japanese. The meat in the spring is very rich and intense in flavor and is lean without any fat which makes it refreshing. Katsuo tataki is particularly nice if you can garnish it with fresh myoga and dress it with a citrusy ponzu sauce.

Hotate we like as sashimi or cooked meuniere style. Takikomigohan of scallops is also a nice change-up. Mebaru is a light, white fish that is nice as himono. Don’t throw away the head of tai as it is lovely when salted and grilled. Shinji also likes to keep the bones of tai after he has filleted the fish to make a broth. Simply make some kombu dashi, add the bones and simmer for about ten minutes. A delicate broth, but rich with the umami from the fish bones and kombu.

Iwashi (sardines) and isaki (threeline grunt) are just starting to become rich with fat as we approach the rainy season.

Ainame  鮎魚女  Fat greenling (Hexagrammos otakii

Akagai 赤貝   Ark shell (Scapharca broughtonii) 

Aoyagi   青柳   Surf clam (Mactra chinensis) 

Asari  浅利   Japanese littleneck clam (Ruditapes philippinarum)

Ayu      Ayu or sweet fish ( Plecoglossus altivelis)

Chidai   血鯛   Crimson sea bream (Evynnis japonica)

Ginzake 銀鮭   Silver (Coho) salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutsh )

Hiramasa 平政 Giant amberjack (Seriola lalandi)

Hotate 帆立貝   Scallop  (Patinopecten yessoensis)

Hoya  ホヤ   Sea squirt (Ascidiacea) 

Minami maguro 南鮪 Southern bluefin tuna (Thunnus maccoyii) 

Isaki 伊佐木 Threeline grunt (Parapristipoma trilineatum )

Ishigarei 石鰈 Stone flounder (Kareius bicoloratus)

Katsuo      Skipjack tuna or oceanic bonito (Katsuwonus pelamis)

Karauni   殻雲丹   Sea urchin (Anthocidaris crassispina)

Kinki 黄血魚   Thorny head (Sebastolobus macrochir)

Kinmedai 金目鯛   Splendid alfonsino (Beryx splendens)

Kihada maguro  黄肌鮪   Yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) 

Kisu キス Sillago (Sillago japonica)

Kurodai 黒鯛   Japanese black porgy (Acanthopagrus schlegelii)

Okoze 虎魚   Scorpion fish (Lnimicus japonicus(Cuvier))

Maaji  真鯵   Horse mackerel (Trachurus japonicas)

Maanago 真穴子 Conger eel (Conger myriaster  )

Madai  真鯛   Red sea bream (Pagurus major)

Maiwashi 真鰯 Sardine (Sardinops melanostictus)

Mirugai  海松食   geoduck (Tresus keenae)

Mebaru 目張   rockfish (Sebastes inermis)

Makogarei   真子かれい   Marbled flounder (Pleuronectes yokohamae Gunther)

Mongōika もんごういか   Kisslip cuttlefish (Sepia lycidas) 

Sakura ebi  桜蝦    Sakura shrimp (Sergia lucens)

Sawara      Japanese Spanish mackerel (Scomberomorus niphonius)

Sazae   栄螺   Turban shell (Turbo cornutus)

Shirauo 白魚   Whitefish or ice goby (Salangichthys microdon)

Shira ebi 白海老   Glass shrimp (Pasiphaea japonica)

Sumiika   墨烏賊   Cuttlefish (Sepia (Platysepia  esculenta Hoyle)

Tairagai   平貝   Pen shell (Atrina (Servatrina) pectinata)

Tachiuo   太刀魚   Belt fish or Largehead hairtail (Trichiurus lepturus Temminck&Schlegel)

Tokisake   時鮭   Young chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta)

Tsubugai   螺貝   Whelk (Buccinum undatum)

Shako   蝦蛄   Mantis shrimp (Oratosquilla oratoria)

Shiro ika 白烏賊 Swordtip squid (Photololigo edulis)

Torigai   鳥貝   Cockle (Fulvia mutica)